Discovering education

For most students, the road to graduation is long, winding and full of obstacles. For others, it’s almost unnavigable. Yet, in the face of adversity, the most determined among them find a way to persevere.

That perseverance was on full display at the Council Chambers in Gilmour Hall, as graduates of the McMaster University Discovery Program walked across the stage to receive their hard-earned certificates.

Run by McMaster’s Arts & Science Program, Discovery is a free, university-level, non-credit course offered to Hamilton residents who have experienced barriers to post-secondary education. Students in this year’s cohort overcame a variety of hurdles, including financial obstacles, health issues, accessibility problems and social conditions.

Ranging in age from late 20s to early 70s, no two Discovery students took the same path to the program, but all 21 students graduated as peers with triumph in hand and opportunity ahead of them.

“For many Discovery students, the course satisfies their learning goals,” says program coordinator Melissa Ricci. “Others, though, will go on to take college or university courses, attend other programs in the city, volunteer, or find new jobs, among other things.”

This year’s course, “Diving In: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Water,” was taught by Dr. Kim Dej from McMaster’s School of Interdisciplinary Science. Together with the students, Dej dove into a thorough examination of the role that water plays in our lives and in our communities.

Paying special attention to the water systems of Hamilton, the course incorporated a variety of perspectives on the topic, including discussions of the scientific significance of water, the importance of water in society and the effects of policy on bodies of water.

Over the course of the semester, students developed an understanding of issues relating to local water quality, explored water from a series of academic perspectives, participated in field trips to research labs at McMaster, strengthened their reading, writing and researching abilities, and created a cumulative project that reflected on all they learned from the course.

“Working for Discovery, you get to see just how excited people are to learn,” Ricci says. “It’s so cool to be a part of it, and seeing them in class really reawakened my own passion for learning.”

Just as in previous years, the Arts & Science Program, committed to what Director Dr. Jean Wilson calls a “culture of mutual teaching and learning,” appointed a Student Support Team to take the plunge into the course alongside the Discovery students, professor and coordinator. Sydney Potts (Level II), Emma Reilly (Level III), Theodore Simantirakis (Level IV), and Emma Yim (Level III) comprised this year’s team, and they all worked together to ensure that Discovery students were supported and encouraged on their way to graduation.

“That group is so important because its role changes depending on the needs of the students,” Ricci says. “They help Discovery students navigate campus, help them with parking, assist with classroom technology and MacIDs, help connect them to campus WiFi, and advise on projects and research.”

Students in the Discovery Program also receive support for childcare and transportation, access to campus libraries, and share a weekly lunch with the instructional team and any guest facilitators.

Even with that all said, the program is a large undertaking for many of its students. It’s also a big time commitment, as classes ran for four hours every Saturday from September to December.

Combining that with employment, family obligations, and other commitments and responsibilities, Ricci says the group’s dedication to learning is commendable.

“It’s honestly amazing,” she says. “Knowing what some of these people have overcome and seeing them show up every weekend eager to learn, participate, and contribute is so inspiring.”

Supported by the Office of the President, the McMaster Discovery Program is now heading into its ninth year.

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